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The Puppeteer

The Puppeteer

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Published by Christine Stoddard
A short story about a young painter who decides to become a puppeteer. Learn more about Christine and her creative projects at www.christinestoddard.com.
A short story about a young painter who decides to become a puppeteer. Learn more about Christine and her creative projects at www.christinestoddard.com.

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Published by: Christine Stoddard on Dec 20, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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01/03/2010

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"The Puppeteer"By Christine Stoddard
The garage, dank and dim that December afternoon, opened to a small yard. Pigeonbrown hedges and wilted flowers peeked out from the fence encircling the gray garden.Slabs of plywood flattened the grass, hiding the fact that Peter had unintentionallysprayed most of the vegetation blue. Blue footprint-shaped stains graced the garage'sdoorstep and floor, leading to a skinny man and his cluttered workbench. The manhunched over a smattering of wood, paint bottles, and tools. His elbows wagged up anddown as he tinkered with a screw. Peter wiggled the screwdriver until the screwplummeted on the table with a tiny
clink 
. Peter sniffed in deeply, as if his nose soughtthe stench of drying paint."Smelling paints kills neurons, you know," Peter's mother always said. "That's why youshouldn't spend so much time in the art room after school. Besides, you always comehome dirty. Get here as soon as you can. Or go to George's house. But I'm tired oftrying to get paint out of your clothes."Nodding submissively, Peter flung his blue (or red or yellow or green) hands behind hisback. "Okay, Mom," he said."You know your father's trying to get a promotion at work. And with the boss living nextdoor, Peter, and him seeing you everyday, well...what will he think of your father ifyou're always running around like a little painted savage?"Peter stared his mother blankly.His mother sighed. "Oh, Peter. I just mean...please try to act more like the other kids,okay?" She leaned in toward her son and tapped the tip of his nose. "Remember, artistsalways have hard lives. I don't want you ending up poor." The nervous woman shifted inher armchair and smiled at Peter. Her left eye twitched.When she picked up her crossword puzzle again, Peter scurried back to his room. Heclosed the door silently behind his boyish frame. Then he whipped around. Before hecould stop himself, his fingers danced over the drawers and the few shelves he couldactually reach. The search for crayons, felt, yarn, markers, and clean paper hadcommenced. Within minutes, stickers, glue sticks, googly eyes, pom-poms, andenvelopes littered the floor. Anything from cut-out animals to colorful dioramas to minicomic books somehow came out of the random shreds and strings he pulled together.When he finished, Peter shoved the creations under his bed, in his closet, under thefloorboards, in the attic--anywhere his mother would not immediately find them.
 
Then, exhausted, Peter slumped down and contemplated his toy chest before pullingout a dinosaur or tiger. He'd make up stories for the animals, growling and roaring whennecessary. When Peter's mother checked in on him, she beamed at her son behavinglike a normal little boy. She beamed even more brightly when Peter asked for "cookiesmade from scratch.""Of course, darling," she said, "I'll put them in the oven now. You'll have time to come upwith at least one other of your stories, I'm sure. See how much more fun this is thanpainting? Cleaner, too." Over the years, his mother's diction did not change. It was as she had thumbed througha dictionary for all the right words--concise, stern words. Then she wrote them all down,practiced her speech before the mirror, and spat it all out as soon as Peter arrived homefrom the art room. Smudged and dejected, Peter simply gulped and said yes. He hadpromised never to do it again at least a thousand times before."It's unhealthy to spend all of your time in the art room, Peter. It doesn't matter if MissBreig stays after school everyday. That doesn't mean
you 
have to. She's not married,doesn't have any kids. It's not like she has anything else to do, anyway. But you!
You 
should go spend time with the other children. Don't you like the new playground at St.Agnes? You're a healthy boy, after all. Don't you like running around and throwingballs?"By the time Peter's mother asked him questions, however, something else had alreadyseized his mind. Perhaps a red ant scrambled across the counter. Or the faint scent ofsesame oil lurked in the air. Or the television was on, with Quickdraw Mcgraw or Yogi.Distracted, Peter did not answer until his mother squeezed his chin between herlacquered nails."Peter," she said, "Please answer the question like an intelligent child." She waited abeat and repeated herself.Peter sighed, promising to play soccer or baseball or tennis. The few rules of thesegames he actually knew had become so jumbled in his brain that, had he played, Peterprobably would've held a racquet like a bat and tried hitting a soccer ball into abasketball hoop."You know that all boys who play sports grow up to be big, strong men, don't you? Andbig, strong men always get the neatest jobs when they grow up, right?"Peter's gaze landed on his mother's mole. A teeny hair had recently begun to sprout outfrom it.
 
"You want to become big and strong, huh, Peter? Peter? C'mon." She jiggled Peter'schin. His hair fell into his eyes like bangs. "Right, Peter? You don't want to become allscrawny and pale like that sculptor down the street, right? The one who lives all aloneand owns that mangy dog, right? Peter!"Peter shuffled in place, annoyed by the nail marks his mother had left in his face."Yes...um, no, Mom."She patted his bony back. "Good. Now go outside."At this time, Peter habitually hiccuped and returned to his room.As Peter aged, his mother obviously aged, too. But she seemed better preserved, like awell-kept antique toy who would never forget its one trick. From the second that Peterreached puberty, his mother did not change. When Peter trudged through the front doorwith his backpack slung on one shoulder and a paint-splattered smock on the other, sherepeated the same words everyday:"You're never going to get a girlfriend this way, Peter."He altered his response everyday, just for variety. One day, for example, he muttered,"Maybe I don't want one, Mom." He stroked the pencil in his pocket with his hitchhiker'sthumb. It squeaked softly beneath his nail."Trust me, you do. One day you'll find someone incredible and marry her and havechildren with her and--oh! Just..trust me, Peter. A paintbrush cannot compare to agirlfriend.""You're right," Peter hissed, "The paintbrush's more interesting.""Peter!" She stamped her foot against the floor. "You'll regret this later when you're theonly one who doesn't go to your senior prom, or when you live your whole life alone!"Peter shrugged his shoulders and headed upstairs to his room. Canvases and nakedwooden sculptures awaited his arrival.Fifty finished paintings, one wall mural, and countless illustrations later, Peter grinned atthe thought of high school graduation. He had just returned with an appointment with hisschool counselor, who informed him that his GPA had just barely qualified him for adiploma in June."That's all I need to hear, Ms. Parks!" Peter exclaimed.

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